On Running (Again).

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I’ve talked about exercise and running on here before, but I wanted to expound on it. This whole post is spurred on by The Oatmeal’s great comic he did on running and what it means to him. There was plenty that I related to in there, but there was some notable exceptions. I do recommend you go read it though, it is funny and a great portrayal of what many runners go through. Another inspiration was the semi-autobiographical story by Haruki Murakami and his love of running called What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. I don’t want to compare and contrast their views to mine, but I do want to talk about running.

Now that no one else is reading thanks to that last sentence I think we are good to start. I was introduced to running by an ex-girlfriend of mine in high school, and at first I hated it with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. I did stick with it, partly for her sake, but mostly I needed to get in some kind of shape instead of being in many different shapes. So, I started running regularly, getting into the rhythms and feelings and I got hooked. Here we are eight years later, and I’m finally writing down my thoughts on it. Timely.

Why do people even run? I mean I guess initially it was either to get from point A to point B quicker and/or/probably to outrun dangerous predator’s gaping maws. We are pretty much past that now, I think, at least in the first world we are not often found running for travel or from predators. Now running is a purely recreational activity (for the sake of this post I do include exercise even though it’s for your health).

As a form of recreation it seems to be an odd one. Most people do things to either induce pleasure or reduce pain. Running kind of accomplishes both. Let’s first do away with the notion that people who run regularly are exempt from pain. Every day I run I am in pain. It is not an unbearable pain, it is just a constant, dull pain. Sure, you can run faster, longer, and have a shorter recovery period, but the pain is still there. Not to be melodramatic, but that is why I love it, the pain makes you feel alive.

While we are on the subject of pain, let’s get in touch with our emotional side. I know we are all strong, independent women here, but yes, I’m sure all of us have felt like life sauntered on up and out of nowhere punched us right in the solar plexus. For times like this, running is just about the best cure I can think of. The act takes your mind off of whatever happened, makes you exert all that negative energy, and releases sweet amounts of endorphins so you don’t tailspin into a depression cesspool of woe and misery. So next time you find yourself at the intersection of sad and super sad, throw on your running shoes and just go.

Running, when not done in a competitive environment, puts the onus of competition squarely on yourself. Mind V. Body in the purest sense. When you really get into the run all your body is doing is telling you to stop. The all too familiar pain begins to creep up, you start sweating, and your breathing is now labored. You have to stop, but you can’t stop. The dichotomy that is ever-present in the mind of the runner intensifies the small conquests you have along the way. If you can make it just a little farther, a little more, a little faster, for a little longer – mantras repeated to help keep the body silenced. If you wind up on the winning side of history you feel just gosh dang amazing.

Bear Shark

There is a state called “The Runner’s High” where your body releases a bunch of endorphins and you feel an intense sense of empowerment. You feel like you can fight 10 snarling, vicious bear sharks and win. It is one of the best feelings I’ve experienced. I’ve heard people describe “The Runner’s High” as addictive. It definitely produces a feeling you want to chase down again. I’m not so much of a spiritual or religious person, but the post-run has to be as close to a spiritual moment as one can get without the aid of another human (SEX, GUYS, I AM TALKING ABOUT SEX HERE). It is like being awash in a sea of rainbows and puppy dogs. Dudes, it feels amazing.

When I run on the treadmill in the winter months I have something I like to call “The Two-Minute Hate.” Yes, inspired by one of my favorite books, 1984. I would do my normal workout, but for the last two minutes would increase the intensity to unsustainable levels. I did this to “leave nothing on the field” as sportsman say. For instance, if I was running on a 7, I would crank it to 8.5 for the first minute, and then 10 for the last minute. During that time your whole body is screaming. It takes everything to keep going, or worse, to keep from falling off the treadmill. During those two minutes everything is wrong. Everything is pain. All is chaos. However, after that two minutes, when you start to come down off the rage junket, order starts to return and the wave of ecstasy hits you. Now nothing could go wrong. This alone would be reason enough to run, but there is another, if not more important reason.

At any given time I have about five or six things running around in my head. My brain is terrible at managing and organizing them. Seriously, it is god awful. That’s why I have such a strong adherence to calendars and lists. Without it I would forget everything and not get anything done. I’ve said it before, but my brain is stupid. Unfortunately, the calendars and lists do nothing to deal with anything emotional or thought-provoking. If there is really a big problem I have to work through, I go for a run. Running is my meditation. Running is my time. While running all the crazy beasts bouncing off the inside my skull quiet down and I can focus, I can think. I can try to work though the issues plaguing me for the day and clear my head. Part of the reason for this focus I feel is the simplistic nature of running. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, but you know, more quickly than walking. All I have to do is remember to do that, which leaves my head free to tackle other things.

Image by The Oatmeal
Image by The Oatmeal

There is one more reason, the reason probably everyone cites, and that is health. Running works your heart out. If you are not aware your heart is that thing that is shaped like an upside down butt and totally hates cheeseburgers. You will see weight loss, but it is not as staggering as some other exercise plans. The Oatmeal points out in his comic, you will not start looking like Charles Atlas on running alone. You will start developing some mad stamina though. Plus, as an American, heart disease runs rampant in this corn-fed country so making that thing sweat a little is always a good idea.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this because it is AMAZING. Hot running. This week in particular has granted it its own subsection. It’s been roughly 100+ degrees Fahrenheit all week long and I’ve run every day in it. It is equal parts the best and worst. You know that feeling when you put the blanket over your head to block out the light or to get warm, but then all the hot air from your breath fills it up and it’s like stiflingly hot? Imagine that feeling, but gradually getting worse for your whole run while sweat pours out from you. That, my friend, is hot running, and it feels awful and great. It’s horrid for the obvious, stated reasons, but just about every part of that run feels like a victory. You fight to keep going and every foot more is a victory (Sorry people not in the US, for using all the wrong units. I love the metric system, let’s be best friends solely based on that.). It makes you feel human. It makes you feel alive.

Running is one of my favorite activities to do and it keeps me sane, healthy, and focused. My day feels unfulfilled when I have to miss. Maybe runners are a different breed and people think we are a tad askew, but I feel glad to be counted among the ranks. I stray from time to time, but I always come back and running is always right there waiting with a sign that says “Pick up the pace fatty.” I love you, too, running.

Topic 4: Now, I’m a Morning Person.

Topic #4:

Pick something new to do this week, whether it be a new recipe, craft, or activity, that you have never attempted before.  Then write a how-to about this new thing you have done.

My never before attempted thing is morning exercise, specifically, before class exercise. I have always been a person to exercise in the afternoon, so this was different. Here is an account.

Day 1:

Arguably the hardest day. My entire body was telling me, “No, the bed, it feels nice.” With much reluctance I arose from my warm, pillowy cocoon and put on my work out gear and headed to the basement. It has a bunch of stuff cluttering the unloved workout area. I cleared it all out and did “Chest & Back” and “Ab-Ripper X” as per the schedule. It was hard and it made me feel completely week and ineffectual, but I still pressed on. I still remember when I could do that workout without much trouble. It shows how quickly your body can deteriorate without proper maintenance. I did it, day 1, done.

Day 2:

I missed it. I missed my alarm and didn’t get up in time to work out this morning. Maybe it was because my body was just wrecked from the day before, but I missed it. I barely made it to class in time. Either way, after class I came home, ate something, relaxed, and did the workout. Today was “Plyometrics”. Plyometrics is jump training. It involves plenty of lunges, and, well, jumping. To say this workout is painful is an understatement. Again, it brought back memories where I could follow along perfectly with the video and even surpass some of the stuff shown. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Day 3-7:

So guess what. I injured myself. I didn’t like pop a joint or break an arm, but I am sore to the point of impeding me doing normal things. I guess this is the price of jumping into a workout of that intensity from a point of relative sedentary behavior. I know if that I push myself any more that I will end up hurting myself for a long time. This is where my journey sadly ends. I plan on trying to reinstate my morning routine next week, but I need to build to the point to be able to do P90-X. It’s going to be hard. Starting from complete rest to physical exhaustion is a tough transition. I think the goals will be worth it though. I noticed way more energy during the day I woke up early and did it.

Take-aways

Don’t over-exert yourself. It’s painful and ineffective. Also, the just do it mentality is a must for anything straight out of bed. Don’t let your brain be your obstacle.

On Future Goals Through the Lens of Physical Fitness.

My friends will laugh when seeing the title of this post because it is something I have been very vocal about since I started taking physical fitness seriously. I promise this post will not be in the style of dudebro. More this is peek into my thoughts and feelings on physical fitness and exercise as a whole and why I believe it can propel our other, loftier goals.

 

As said in numerous other posts I have not been the most athletic lad growing up. I was always a very skinny kid, but once junior high came around my metabolism decided it needed a rest and has been asleep every since. About the time I hit junior or senior year of high school I was fed up with being as chubby as I was. My weight fluctuates like crazy so in the past years I have gone from weights as low as 155 to as high as 210. Without boring you too much with the past that brings me to now.

 

I live in a country where one of our biggest health problems lies in our gluttony. You would be hard pressed to walk into a store, park, or any other venue where people congregate without running into someone overweight. I do understand that some people have genetic issues where it is extremely hard to lose weight, and I do have sympathy for those individuals, but the majority of us do not suffer from such misfortunes. No, most of us just can’t help but stuff our faces with the myriad fast food choices available at the drop of a hat. If you break it down to its base parts, the issue does not lie with taste, connivence, or speed, but in our loss of discipline. We can’t seem to muster up the will power to abstain from practices we know to be bad or difficult to accomplish.

If you can tell from my thinly veiled attempt to lead you into seeing that obesity is not a problem just for our diets, but due to the society as a whole. The bar to which we hold ourselves accountable to has become deplorable. We used to be a nation who would not settle for second best, but in a few short generations, second best isn’t even an attainable goal.

This past year I have lead a personal charge to not fall prey to the prevailing attitudes. One such attempt has been made on my physical well-being. I didn’t just want to get in decent shape; I wanted great shape. It has been tough. Really tough. Tougher than many things have done in recent memory. I’ve started a program called P90X which is all about intensity and discipline. It’s a rigorous 90 day program where you work out every day and cover just about all aspects of physical fitness. To get the results promised you also have to modify your diet, which you can do with the provided nutrition guide. The thing is that it’s not just the physical endurance you will need to do it, it’s the mental discipline. It is everyday for 90 days. You don’t miss a day.

 

I’m about 40 days into it and there has been days where I just don’t want to do it. It’s physically demanding and some days I can’t seem to muster the energy to start it. There is a line that the host, Tony Horton, says in one of the videos, “Just keep pushing play.” It’s simple, but good advice. Once you start it’s not bad. If you can just hit the play button, the next thing you know another day will be ticked off the list. I want to dispel something I hear quite often which is that some people who exercise often are somehow less effected by the exercise, i.e., the more fit you are the less exercise hurts. Exercising is tough no matter how in shape you are, it’s exhausting, it burns, it’s painful. The point I am trying to get across is that exercise isn’t so much about it being fun (which it very well can be), but about being healthy, living longer, being less prone to disease and injury, and all the other great benefits that come along with being physically well.

 

Being fit opens up a whole new world of things to you. The energy and self-confidence gained will astonish you. It focuses you and gets you motivated to achieve goals that are difficult to see. This may not be of interest to all of you, but there is many parts of this green Earth that are not able to be reached by car, bus, plane, train, or boat. You can see the majesty and beauty this world actually contains, but it’s hard to do that when you have to climb or walk there without being in shape. There is a blog that I ran into recently that chronicled the journey three guys took on their bike from the southern-most tip to the northern-most tip of Japan. They biked the whole way and spent most of it outside. It just seems like such a great journey and those guys can tell you it whipped their butt to do it.

This post probably sounds preachy, but it’s supposed to. The human body was meant to climb, jump, run, and play. That and our brain helped us achieve the dominance we enjoy today. Ignoring half of ourselves is not right. We are becoming more and more a sedentary culture and it will lead to being like those humans in WALL-E. I have never been more motivated, energetic, and productive. I have also never been more in shape. The strong correlation is not an accident, it is what gave us the edge. It’s how we evolved. To fight it is to invite problems into your life. Once you realize this, you will be much happier. I am.

Photo belongs to unframmedworld.com